Samantha Keating always wanted a family, and with the help of the Armstrong Fertility Institute, her dream was becoming a reality—in triplicate! The widowed mother-to-be wasn't looking for a father for her growing family. It had to be her out-of-control hormones giving her such unneighborly feelings for Hector Garza—the handsome, far-too-available man next door. But was the bachelor ready to take on another man's babies?
Hector had long been intrigued by the statuesque blonde. And Samantha's ever-enlarging baby bump made her more alluring than ever, convincing the up-from-his-bootstraps attorney that he'd finally found Mrs. Right. But was Samantha ready to take that first baby step? To let Hector be the husband—and father—he longed to be?
Samantha Keating was on top of the world. Just forty-five minutes earlier, she'd been at her obstetrician's office, on edge and waiting to hear that everything was just as it should be, even though her ever-enlarging baby bump was proof that it was.
She'd been lying on the exam table, her belly exposed and slathered in gel, as Dr. Chance Demetrios ran the ultrasound scanner over her womb.
"Congratulations," he'd said with a grin. "The babies look good, Mom. And we've got at least one boy."
"But are the others doing okay?" she'd asked. "They aren't too small for you to tell?"
Dr. Demetrios had chuckled. "They're the right size, and they've got their fingers and toes, but the other two aren't in a position where I can see the telltale signs."
"It really doesn't matter," she'd said. "I'll love them no matter what."
And now, with the good news still ringing in her ears and in her heart, she couldn't be happier.
Four months ago, at the world-renowned Armstrong Fertility Institute, a leading biotech firm that specialized in areas of infertility and genetic testing, she'd had her procedure done. Dr. Demetrios had transplanted three embryos into her womb, hoping that one would take. It had been so clinical, so unpredictable.
"Now all we have to do is wait," Dr. Demetrios had said afterward.
But Samantha had been too eager to sit around at her mother's house and twiddle her thumbs. So before the clinic could run the official lab work, she'd taken a home pregnancy test and had been thrilled to see the results were positive.
Then, at her first follow-up appointment at the clinic, she'd learned that she was expecting triplets, which was awesome. But it was worrisome, too. There were so many things that could go wrong.
Thank goodness she'd made it through that difficult first trimester. With each month that passed, as the babies grew and developed, she felt more content, more hopeful. And now that she was well into her second trimester and knew that all three babies were healthy and thriving, she could finally relax and enjoy her pregnancy.
And she could finally move back into the house she'd once shared with Peter, the house she'd left after his death. The house that had been a mansion compared to the home in which she'd grown up.
Of course, things would never be the same—and she didn't expect them to be. Her life was about to change dramatically—again—but this time in a wonderful way.
She didn't harbor any unrealistic expectations, though. It would be difficult raising three children alone. She'd realized that going in, and she fully accepted the challenge. This was a choice she'd made five years ago, a decision she would never regret.
A lot of the women who went to the Armstrong Fertility Institute were unable to conceive, but Samantha's circumstances had been different. She hadn't been infertile. Instead, she'd needed medical help to conceive her late husband's babies.
In those dreadful days after Peter had been fatally injured in a tragic car accident, she'd sat at his bedside, grief-stricken and heartbroken, watching a myriad of bleeping machines keep him alive and realizing her hopes and dreams for a family were dying with him.
He'd already made the decision to be a donor, so while plans were being made to harvest his organs for transplant, she'd made a spur-of-the-moment decision to extract his sperm—a secret no one knew, not even her in-laws.
Samantha glanced in the rearview mirror at her smiling reflection, saw the maternal glimmer dancing in her eyes, the healthy glow of pregnancy on her face.
Of course, she realized that there still could be complications up ahead, that the pregnancy was considered high risk, that the babies would probably come early. But Dr. Demetrios didn't foresee any problems at this point, so Samantha refused to dwell on what could go wrong.
Instead, she would focus on eating well, getting her rest and making sure she had plenty of fresh air and sunshine.
Of course, she wouldn't be getting any sunshine today. She glanced at the sky, with its storm clouds growing darker with each city block she passed.
As she neared Primrose Lane, she spotted a moving van turning ahead of her and realized that her furniture would arrive on the tree-lined street just as she did.
She wasn't sure where she'd put the new things, since she'd taken very little with her when she left after the funeral and had gone to stay with her mom. She planned to do a bit of redecorating over the next few months and would probably get rid of more than she kept.
There was a lot to do; she'd locked up the house after Peter's funeral and hadn't been back since. She'd managed to orchestrate all the ongoing maintenance work and landscaping from a distance. And just last week, she'd hired a cleaning crew to get things ready for her return.
All the dishes that had been gathering dust over the years had been washed and put back into the cupboards and on the shelves. Still, she knew there would be a lot of work to do on a home that hadn't been lived in for so long.
At first, she'd stayed away because it had been too painful to be there without Peter. And because she'd never really felt as though she belonged in Beacon Hill, anyway. While she'd been gone, she'd considered selling the house and getting on with her life, but she just hadn't been able to.
Now she was glad she'd held on to it. With three children on the way, she couldn't very well expect to raise them in her mom's small, two-bedroom brownstone in Cambridge, no matter how comfortable she'd been there.
No, Peter's children needed to grow up in the house he'd loved, where she would prepare a nursery filled with three of everything.
It would cost a small fortune, but his trust fund had left her without any financial worries. She'd be able to raise the children and provide them with all the little extras without having to get a job and leaving them in the care of a nanny.
A couple of raindrops splattered on the windshield, and again she glanced up at the darkening sky. Although she'd wanted to get indoors and settled before the rain hit, she'd taken time to stop by the market after she left the clinic. She'd decided to pick up a few necessities, saving the bulk of her shopping until after the storm.
Still, the dreary late-spring weather didn't bother her in the least. She planned to make the best of it by putting on a pot of soup and by getting some baking done.
As she drove down the quiet, tree-lined street, excitement buzzed from her head to her toes. She scanned the old homes in the historic Boston neighborhood. Near the cul-de-sac, next to her own brick, two-story house, she spotted a familiar figure standing in his front yard—her neighbor, Hector Garza.
At well over six feet tall and whipcord thin, the handsome, dark-haired corporate-law attorney was an imposing sight. He always had been.
She remembered the day he'd moved into the neighborhood. She'd come outside to cut a couple of blossoms from her rose garden and spotted her handsome new neighbor watering his lawn. She'd stopped dead in her tracks and nearly dropped the shears, but she'd regrouped and reminded herself that she was married and had no business giving another man a second look.
The ploy had worked, of course. She never would have done anything to hurt or disappoint Peter. Nor would she have done anything that would have been disrespectful. But that didn't mean that she hadn't cast an occasional glance Hector's way whenever she'd been sure that no one was looking.
And now, as he noticed the arrival of the moving van, he turned toward her car, and she quickly averted her gaze to avoid making eye contact.
Some old habits were hard to break, she supposed.
So as the moving van slowed in front of her house, and she waited for it to park, she took note of Hector's yard. The well-manicured lawn and the impressive brick structure in which he lived certainly looked nicer than she'd remembered. Hector, who'd bought his once-run-down house in a distress sale, had clearly put a lot of work into the place.
He'd been newly divorced when he moved into the neighborhood, and she wondered if he'd remarried, if a woman had helped him turn the house and yard into a showpiece.
Probably. Those tall, handsome and successful types usually were involved with someone. But it really didn't matter to her if he'd remarried or not. She didn't have any plans to get too friendly with her neighbors, particularly that one.
Shortly before Peter died, he'd had some kind of argument or disagreement with Hector. Samantha hadn't known the details; Peter had only said that Hector was a jerk and that they should avoid him.
Avoiding the neighbors hadn't been a problem for Samantha. She'd thought that a couple of them had a tendency to be stuffy, which was one reason she didn't expect to get too chummy with them now. But a couple of days after Peter's run-in with Hector, Samantha had been carrying several bags of groceries to the house, when one of the paper sacks slipped out of her hand. A bottle of expensive red wine had broken, and her produce had spilled all down the drive.
Hector had been watering his lawn. When he saw what happened, he came over and helped her clean up the mess. His thoughtfulness and kindness had surprised her. Apparently, whatever problem he had with Peter hadn't carried over to her.
She'd always been appreciative when people showed her a kindness, so she'd given Hector a plate of brownies as thanks. She hadn't told Peter about it, though. He probably wouldn't have understood what she'd done or why.
But the truth was, she'd realized that he might have considered her attempts to avoid contact with him as arrogance or conceit, which wasn't the case. And for some reason, she hadn't wanted him to think badly of her.
So now, when Hector spotted her arriving in the car and their gazes finally locked, both recognition and surprise dawned on his face, somehow making him appear even more handsome, more imposing than before. And an unexpected tingle shimmied down her spine.
He lifted his hand in a wave, acknowledging her, and she automatically smiled and wiggled her fingers back. An innocent, neighborly acknowledgement, that's all it was. After all, she wasn't like some of the others who lived on this street and bordered on being snobbish.
Just then, the little tingle of awareness she'd felt when their gazes met somehow became a wave of warmth, one that settled where she hadn't felt anything in a long time.
Had to be hormones, she decided.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror proved her cheeks to be bright red, and she immediately broke eye contact, eager to separate herself from Hector and her runaway musing. Then she clicked on the garage-door opener and parked inside.
Using the remote, she shut herself safely away from the curious eyes of her handsome neighbor.
"Well, I'll be damned," Hector Garza muttered when he spotted a stunning blonde behind the wheel of a white, late-model Jag. It didn't take long for him to realize it was Samantha Keating.
Over the years, he'd thought about her a lot, probably because he'd felt sorry for her. She was too young to be widowed. Yet even before she'd lost Peter, she'd had a smile most people might call wistful. Hector had thought it was more than that, something he considered hauntingly pensive.
Either way, she'd always intrigued him, and he wasn't exactly sure why, especially since he considered married women off-limits—under any circumstances. Still, it hadn't prevented him from simply wondering about her, both then and now.
On the outside, Samantha and her husband had seemed happy, but Hector, who'd gone through a painful and unexpected divorce, had always figured a lot of marriages weren't all that happy behind closed doors. Or maybe he just liked to think that Peter Keating, who'd been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, hadn't actually had the world by a string. But that was probably because the two of them had butted heads shortly after Hector moved into the neighborhood.
One morning, while he was taking the trash cans out to the curb for the garbage collectors to pick up, he'd met Peter doing the same thing. Hector couldn't help noting that the Keatings' waste had been neatly packed in color-coded recycling bins.
The men had introduced themselves, and when Hector asked what he did for a living, Peter mentioned that he was retired. Then he'd chuckled and added, "My grandfather worked hard, so I don't have to."
Hector, who'd pulled himself up by his bootstraps, hadn't found the comment the least bit funny.
From then on, he'd nodded politely at Peter whenever they passed on the street or spotted each other in the yard, but that was about it. Besides, Hector didn't have time to socialize, especially with a man who didn't value hard work.
Then, a few weeks later, Hector was retained in a high-profile case involving a big corporation and a group of environmental activists. The tree huggers had been making false accusations and stirring up trouble for the businessmen. And, it turned out their financial backing came from Peter Keating.
The next time the men met at the curb, Hector couldn't help saying something to Peter about his over-zealous environmental stand.
Okay, to be honest, Hector was concerned about the environment, too. He did whatever he could, but he didn't obsess about it. Besides, he had great respect for the corporate officers who'd worked their butts off to become successful.
Peter had bristled, tossing out a barb of his own about greedy corporations and the barely passed-the-bar shysters who catered to them. From then on, Hector had taken his trash out the night before, just to make sure he avoided Peter.
He didn't have anything against Samantha—other than deciding that she had poor judgment when it came to men. For the record, he'd always found the tall, statuesque blonde attractive. And he remembered the day she'd dropped her groceries in the drive, breaking a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and ripping open a bag of oranges that rolled all the way to the street. He'd never been what you'd call gallant, but without hesitation he'd headed next door and helped her clean up the glass and pick up the stray oranges. And then he'd helped her carry the rest of her groceries into the house.
She'd had a nice lilt to her voice and a pretty smile.